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Thread: Career: Independent Scientist.

  1. #31


    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    The piece of paper doesn't. The process of acquiring it? Hell yes it does. It's not just your research topic that you learn about while you're getting your phd.

    It's possible to think scientifically without being trained, hypothetically, but it's kinda unlikely. You learn so much about experimental design, statistics, etc etc which yes, could be learned on your own if you knew what you were looking for, but it's hard to find a "learn to be a scientist in 8 easy steps!" tutorial online. Acquiring knowledge on scientific topics is incredibly easy. Acquiring accurate, current knowledge on how to do science effectively is not as easy, by a long shot.
    Having worked in industry for quite some time, I've known PhD's who couldn't think their way through a technical problem unless they found the answer in some paper (or group of papers and textbooks), and high school kids who were sharp enough to think through really tough problems without having the ingredients of the solutions "come from on high" through reputable journals and textbooks.

    There is even a joke in industry about those with PhD's just "Piling it on Higher and Deeper". There is some truth to the saying, because many of the PhD's have such narrow (though admittedly deep) knowledge bases that problems outside their expertise throw them for a loop. While less educated people tended to not be "experts" at anything, and used to tackling technical problems outside their scope.

    Also, academia, in a large sense, is insular and incestuous in the way it generates ideas. I have only been back in school for a couple of months, and I have already had my fill of stories about the politics of publication, referees and reputation. There are always stories of how a well reputed individual espousing/denouncing an idea lead to many others essentially parrot the opinion to get publications, only to find out years later that they were all wrong.

    Not to say that I don't see the value of going through a PhD program. I quit a rather lucrative career to start one. But believing that getting a PhD is the only way seems to lack perspective.

    Science is not magic. Neither is statistics, nor experimental design. There ARE high school kids who do good science, and are rewarded for it every year. How did they learn to do it? There is an inherent logic to scientific thinking. Discoveries can and do come from anywhere.

    Crackpottery and good science can come from the same person. It has for ages. Isaac Newton, perhaps the best physicist of all time, wasted a lot of his time on alchemy. Tesla was sometimes off his rocker, but was still one of the greatest inventors of all time. Edison also had wild theories that never panned out. Faraday knew little math, let alone statistics, but was one of the greatest experimentalists of all time.

    I think the people stuck on the idea that formal training is the only way, are the very same ones going through, or having gone through such training. I am sure it is quite rigorous and difficult. It can seem like someone who hasn't gone through the same process is going to be hopelessly lost without it. "After all, it took ME so much time to get trained. How could someone possibly pick all that up without the training?"

    But you could say the same thing about many human endeavors. People with MBAs often scoff at book like "The 10 day MBA", but there are plenty of people who run businesses without MBAs. There are trained actors who scoff at the untrained walk-ons who nevertheless become stars. There are many who have taken year after year of rigorous training in playing an instrument, only to be out-shone by some neophyte whose music people like.

    If you are a chemist who graduated with just a B.S. and do industrial research for 10 years (working your way up from junior chemist), I think you will be as advanced as someone you earned a PhD (though keep in mind the PhD may only take you 5 years). Some very talented individuals may get to the same level of advancement in even less time than it would take to get a PhD.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  2. #32
    Just a statistic Array rhinosaur's Avatar
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    Apr 2007


    Quote Originally Posted by Green_Pine View Post
    Do remember Rhinosaur that a Ph.D. or what have you does not actually confer any knowledge on a person.

    Knowledge is knowledge no matter where it comes from.

    For most, a college setting is the most efficient to it in a job pertaining manor.
    Of course it is possible to teach yourself everything, if you are smart enough. Like I said, "good luck."

    @ygolo : I agree that the process of getting a PhD does not necessarily help you to solve technical problems, and that it's more about depth than breadth.

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